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A New Demographic Transition ?
Dudley Kirk
The sheer size and menancing character of population growth in the world today have resulted in widespread demands for action. Popular attention is understandably focused on population policies rather than on the basic economic, social, and cultural forces within which all programs must operate. These forces will very largely determine the future course of population growth. This paper seeks to analyze some of these "natural" forces, particularly as they relate to trends in the birth rate in the less developed regions.* The basic assumption of most students of human populations is that humanity is midstream in a revolutionary change in its processes of reproduction—a transition from wastefully high death and birth rates to a more efficient and humane reproduction with much lower death and birth rates. As Stolnitz says,
... All nations in the modern era which have moved from a traditional, agrarian-based economic system to a largely industrial, urbanized base have also moved from a condition of high mortality and fertility to low mortality and fertility. In so doing they have almost all experienced enormous increases in population along with massive shifts in their relative numbers of children, adults and aged. (1)
Among students of population this process is called "the vital revolution" or, more soberly, "the demographic transition."
The first phase of this transition is death control or, strictly speaking, the postponement of deaths. Death rates are being reduced as the result of public health measures, medical advances, rises in levels of living, and improvements in personal cleanliness and health care. The so-called "population explosion" is a manifestation of this success in reducing mortality throughout the world on a scale totally unprecedented in human history. The more developed
Dudley Kirk is Professor of Demography, Food Research Institute and Department of Sociology, Stanford University.
*In this chapter these are defined to include Africa, Asia (excluding Japan and the U.S.S.R.), and the Latin American region (excluding Argentina and Uruguay). U.N., 1951.